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Ten Reasons To Eat More Fish

A healthy, balanced diet should include at least 2 portions of fish a week, including 1 of oily fish.

That’s because fish and shellfish are good sources of many vitamins and minerals. Oily fish – such as salmon and sardines – is also particularly high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to keep your heart healthy.  Most of us should have more fish in our diet, including more oily fish.

The essential omega-3 fatty acids – found in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna – are vital for healthy brain function.

1. It’s ‘nature’s antidepressant’

In fact, people who eat a fish-rich Mediterranean diet are significantly happier and less stressed than those who don’t, according to recent research at the University of South Australia found.

2. It may reduce risk of bowel cancer

People who eat a diet including fish and vegetables – but no meat – are 43 per cent less likely to develop bowel cancer, according to a study at the Loma Linda University of California. The most significant factor here could be the absence of meat: eating a lot of red and/or processed meat is a major risk factor for the disease. However, people who ate fish appeared to derive the greatest benefits, compared to vegetarians and vegans.

3. It can fight rheumatoid arthritis

Eating at least one portion of oily fish each week can halve risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. That’s according to a 2013 study of 32,000 women, published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. It’s thought the protective qualities all stem from – you guessed it – omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

4. It could prevent hearing loss

People who eat fish at least twice a week are 20 per cent less likely to develop hearing loss, says US research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study followed 65,215 nurses over an 18-year period, during which time 11,606 cases of hearing loss were reported. ‘Consumption of any type of fish – tuna, dark fish, light fish or shellfish – tended to be associated with lower risk,’ says lead researcher Sharon Curhan. ‘These findings suggest diet may be important in the prevention of acquired hearing loss.’

5. It can improve your memory

Stick to a fish-rich Mediterranean-style diet and you’re 19 per cent less likely to experience memory problems in later life, according to research from the University of Alabama. Another study review, commissioned by supplements company Equazen, found that older people with memory problems may witness a slowing of symptoms if they up their intake of fish oils.

6. It can ward off a stroke

Need another reason to eat two portions of oily fish each week? It can ‘moderately but significantly’ reduce risk of stroke, according to a 2012 study – published in the British Medical Journal – which looked at the diets of almost 800,000 people worldwide.

7. It might halt your headaches

Several studies have suggested that consuming more oily fish may reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. A University of Cincinnati study, for example, found that nine out of 15 migraine sufferers saw a significant decline in symptoms after taking fish oil supplements for six weeks.

8. It will boost your bones

Oily fish is one of the best dietary sources of vitamin D, which is essential for healthy teeth and bones. But do choose your fish wisely. Raw herring contains around 19mcg per 100g, compared to just 4.6mcg per 100g of canned sardines in brine. Around half the adults in the UK have insufficient levels of vitamin D, according to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

9. It could offer sun protection

A regular dose of fish oils may boost skin’s immunity to sunlight, according to a 2013 study involving 79 volunteers at the University of Manchester. The conclusion? ‘This study adds to the evidence that omega-3 is a potential nutrient to protect against skin cancer,’ says lead researcher Professor Lesley Rhodes.

10. It’s good for your eyes

Eat at least one portion of oily fish each week and you could reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration – a common cause of blindness – by 60 per cent. That’s according to a study involving more than 2,500 people at John Hopkins University of Baltimore. It’s thought the effect could be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids are specific fats that are critical to the proper function of your body. Your body is not able to produce these fatty acids on its own, so it is necessary that you eat a diet rich in these crucial building blocks to maintain a healthy body. The two main essential fatty acids that need to be included in your diet are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

How Do Essential Fatty Acids Aid the Body?

Essential fatty acids have a ton of benefits on your body and its cells. They help with cellular development and the formation of healthy cell membranes, and they have actually been shown to block tumor formation in animals, as well as block the growth of human breast cancer cells.

Essential fatty acids assist in the development and function of the brain and nervous system, and they help regulate proper thyroid and adrenal activity. They play a role in thinning your blood, which can prevent blood clots that lead to heart attacks and stroke. They also possess natural anti-inflammatory qualities that can relieve symptoms of both arthritis and other autoimmune system diseases.

Essential fatty acids regulate blood pressure, immune responses and liver function, as well as help with blood clotting and breaking down cholesterol. They also help you look good, as a diet low in these fatty acids has been shown to create skin problems, including eczema, dandruff, split nails and brittle hair.

What Happens if I Don’t Obtain Enough Essential Fatty Acids?

Not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids has the most astounding effects. Low levels have been linked to:

  • mood swings
  • memory loss
  • dementia
  • vision problems
  • hair and skin problems

Additionally, both Alzheimer’s patients and children diagnosed with ADHD have been shown to have lower than average levels of these essential fatty acids.

What Foods Contain Essential Fatty Acids?

There are many sources of essential fatty acids that you can add to your diet to get the nutrients that you need. Omega-3 sources include:

  • nuts
  • soybeans
  • walnut oil
  • canola oil
  • flaxseed oil
  • cold water fatty fish such as salmon, herring, cod, flounder, tuna, bluefish and shrimp

Omega-6s are found in a lot of nuts, oils and meats, but these are well accounted for in a typical Western diet and should not be a concern.

How Much Do I Need?

There is no recommended amount of essential fatty acids in your diet, as everyone is different and has different needs. It is recommended that essential fatty acids make up 3% to 6% of your daily caloric intake. Of this percentage, you should consume 2 to 4 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The typical American diet, however, is quite out of balance, with an average closer to 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s due to high meat consumption.

Many doctors and nutritionists recommend eating fatty fish 2 to 3 times a week to satisfy your omega-3 intake. This, along with nuts and healthy oils, can give you the necessary nutrients needed to benefit from essential fatty acids in your diet.

Can I Take Supplements?

There is the option to take supplements to provide you with omega-3 fatty acids. These include fish oil supplements that generally also contain small amounts of nuts or oils. Read the labels and speak to your doctor about recommendations on the amount of these supplements you should add to your diet.

No matter how you get it, essential fatty acids are crucial to your body’s health. Review your diet and make sure that you are including enough of these building blocks, and if not, make some changes now to support your continued health.

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